Can Flyers keep relying on Emery?

The Rangers were exposing a Ray Emery weakness through the first four periods of their first round series with New York and things looked bleak. To his credit, the veteran backup found a way to adjust. Can he continue it until the cavalry – Steve Mason – returns?

Like the boxers he so much admires, Ray Emery has pulled himself off the mat and given the Philadelphia Flyers a chance, maybe even a good one, of succeeding in their first round series against the New York Rangers.

While Emery wasn’t solely to blame for Philly’s Game 1 egg in Manhattan, he didn’t help. Sure the offense was non-existent, the team took undisciplined penalties and their overall compete level was too flat.

But Emery failed to come up with big saves in the third period when he was most needed as the Rangers exposed a flaw in his game: diminished lateral movement.

Emery, 31, had major hip surgery in 2010 and made a valiant return to the NHL. But his speed from post-to-post is a weakness and the Rangers were working it. At least four goals – two in Game 1 and the first two in Game 2 – came as the result of cross-ice seam passes or plays across the crease in which Emery didn’t close daylight quickly enough.

While a lot of observers remarked he had no chance on those goals, in reality, an elite NHL stopper with top-end lateral movement, would have been in position on some of those plays.

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And after Benoit Pouliot scored New York’s second goal at 8:22 of the first period, on a knuckler of a shot that he clearly didn’t get all of, things looked bleak for the dispirited visitors.

But the Flyers remarkably found new life and, more importantly, got the goaltending they needed from their backup. Emery made the necessary adjustments – maybe he’s cheating a bit sooner/anticipating better? – to compensate for lack of speed. Overall, he stopped 31 of 33 shots, including the last 29 he saw.

Naturally, the Flyers would love to have Steve Mason back in the crease for Game 3 at home. He’ll give them their best chance to win on a nightly basis. Emery’s regular season was mediocre at best – he ranked 43rd overall with a .903 save percentage – and it’s stretch to think he can carry the Flyers for a prolonged period of time.

But for the short-term, he deserves a ton of credit for figuring out a way to overcome a challenge. It’s kept the media hounds like me, for at least a couple days, from bemoaning how the Flyers are yet again in dire playoff straits because of their man between the pipes.